Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday narrowly approved the $40 million purchase and renovation of a Downtown building that will house the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and some city government offices.
Council’s 5-4 vote in favor of the deal was the last approval necessary for purchase of the building at 420 Boulevard of the Allies from Chicago-based M&J Wilkow. Earlier in the day, the housing authority board of directors approved the purchase. The URA board previously signed off.
The three public agencies intend to move their offices from their current location at 200 Ross Street in 2019.
Darlene Harris, Theresa Kail-Smith, Deb Gross and Corey O’Connor, in filing dissenting votes, objected to the cost and speed at which officials moved ahead with the deal.
“There’s no need to rush into the purchase of luxury Class A office space just because the seller wants a whole bunch of money,” Gross said.
City Controller Michael Lamb said council was acting as a “rubber stamp” by approving the purchase without a thorough vetting.
“You would never purchase your own home the way you are purchasing this $40 million building,” he said. “You would shop around, negotiate best price, fully understand the financing and thoroughly review the fees, commissions and costs of closing. You’ve done none of that here.”
City officials have debated moving out of 200 Ross for years, citing a poor building layout prohibitive to delivering services, chronically malfunctioning heating and cooling systems that should be replaced and the lack of a sprinkler system and second staircase that are required under the city’s fire safety codes.
M&J Wilkow recently completed an $11 million renovation of its building that most recently housed the Pittsburgh Art Institute. The purchase price is $27.5 million, and city officials estimated it would cost another $13 million to retrofit it for city and authority offices.
“I can just think of so many other things that we can spend that money on,” Harris said.